Friday, May 31, 2013

Weeding In The Shade

A hot sunny day always sends me looking for a shady place to work.  In our garden at this time of year shade is scarce.  It was no surprise to Ed to find me weeding in the shade garden.  Many of the shade garden plants are gorgeous now.  The white star of Bethlehem and the pale blue bluets are stunning.  That bright  spot of blue next to the tree is a planting of Spanish bluebells. On the far side the red of a wild columbine can be seen.  I need my glasses to weed in this bed.  I search among the favored plants for those plants that I know to be weeds.  Pink poppies, thistles, sunflowers, clover and garlic mustard find there way here.  Some people have the idea that planting native wildflowers means you can just sit on the bench and enjoy the view.   You can for awhile, but over time those nasty weeds and invasive plants like garlic mustard will try to muscle in on your prize plants.  To the invaders I say "I'm watching you, and I love to weed in the shade!"

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Garden Games Rained Out

We have been getting a lot of rain here the last couple of days. Yesterday it rained just about all day and last night it rained too.  Today looked a bit more promising.  Ed spent the morning weeding.  Many weeds pull much more easily when the soil is wet.  With warmer weather and all the rain everything in the garden is growing fast.  I've been waiting to see  plume hyacinths for the first time and they are almost there.  It would be nice to get them weeded so that they look their best.

Here we have onions and pink poppies.  I love my pink double poppies, but these will have to go!  This bed belongs to the onions.

Ed and I worked on a spot to plant asters and some more pansies.   Thunder rumbled in the distance as we worked.  Wanting to finish, we ignored the impending rain until a really loud clap of thunder directly overhead made us decide it was time to head inside.  It was too late.  By the time Ed and I traveled the short distance to the house we were soaked to the skin having been pelted by huge raindrops.

For the rest of the afternoon the sun would come out just long enough to slip outside to take a few pictures or dump the compost, but the dark clouds, wind, and rain always returned.  Garden games have been rescheduled for tomorrow.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Light Last Frost

We were prepared to deal with three consecutive nights of possible freeze or frost.  All of the plants on the wall were carried into the basement.  Since this is no small effort, they remained there until the danger passed.  Wet, but in subdued light, they came through the scary nights unscathed.  The forecast calls for warm nights in the coming days so we can begin to remove plants from pots and fill the garden.

Pinxter opens its flowers before leaves appear.  An earlier frost took the unopened flowers while the leaves were still tightly closed.  Now the plant is poised for a full season of healthy growth.  Perhaps we will see flowers next year.

Summer sweet sends out its leaves ahead of the flowers.  Small brown twists mark the locations of leaves that were open for the previous frost.  Newly opened tender green leaves were able to survive this one night with a light frost.  In time the plant will fully leaf out and should manage a grand display of sweetly scented flowers.  Here we were lucky.

Becky had resigned herself to the fact that her tree peony would never flower here.  The only cover available for this plant was a large wrap of thin nylon cloth.  With that small amount of protection, all three buds survived the frost.  We will look for flowers this year.

None of the plants in this photo were covered from the frost and all survived.  The poppies are somewhat sensitive to frost.  The light frost caused them no harm.  The lily is a survivor from the days when we expected them to survive with no protection.  Survive it did and perhaps we will be able to identify it by its flower this year.

Our bearded iris had sent up buds just ahead of the frost.  We prepared ourselves for a year with no flowers but the light frost did them no harm.  This unknown variety from Becky's grandmother's garden still flowers and stimulates a pleasant childhood memory.

These lilies in the sod house also look great.  The holes mark the locations of plants that had grown too tall to fit under the tarp.  They were pulled to spend cold nights in the basement.  We will now begin to move the lilies into the garden after they are removed from the pots.

Busy days lie ahead of us as we set out both flower and vegetable plants.  We were lucky to have waited longer than many.  We were lucky that this last frost was light.  Now we can get to some serious gardening.

Friday, May 24, 2013

From First To Last

Plant and seed catalogs begin appearing in our mailbox earlier every year.  Many winter hours are devoted to reading about new to us plants and dreaming about the coming gardening year.  Orders are written and rewritten building interest in what is to come.  Roots and Rhizomes specializes in choice Daylilies and Siberian Iris and we have established a pleasing collection of both with their help.

Coronation Anthem Siberian Iris was selected for purchase this year.  When our order finally arrived here none of the plants looked alive and the iris was missing.  A second box was delivered yesterday and the picture shows the contents and their condition.  One of the plants appears to be totally dead while the other two may find some life this year but flowers are years away.  If I were younger waiting years for a new flower would be reasonable but the number of seasons left for me is not limitless.

The purpose of the energy drink, included for free with my order, eludes me.  Is it offered as an explanation for the poor quality of the plants or is it intended to ease my pain?  I think it's bouncing around in the box only helped to the damage the plants in transit!  The energy drink went out with today's trash.

Campanula portenschlagiana has a name long enough to be impressive.  It has shown us that it will grow in a crevice in our stone walls.  How this plant finds either anchorage or nutrients in such a location is not understood but it puts on impressive growth each year.  Healthy green foliage sporting violet colored flowers looks great against our walls.  When removed from the shipping box, this year's plant had been reduced to dark slime by too many days in the box.  I was certain that it was dead but I placed it on the wall in partial shade anyhow.  The plant appears to be finding some life which is truly amazing.

Some how the abuse that these plants have been forced to endure has sucked the fun out of obtaining them.  We garden because we enjoy both the challenges and the rewards that come with working the soil.  Commercial distribution of plants should not nearly kill them before they reach their new home.  Working with the plants that already grow here sounds like a more pleasant undertaking.  Roots and Rhizomes managed to kill off more than plants this year.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

The Trouble With Lilies

The storm system that pounded Oklahoma is now driving our weather.  Thunder and lightening with torrential downpours and fierce winds were with us.  Our power outage lasted only a few minutes and the tomato plants were twisted about.  The tomatoes have been righted with only one torn stem showing the hammering that they took.  This storm's impact on the lilies will hit tomorrow night.

The monster storm from the south has been blocking cold air from the north.  The hot system will pass by opening the door for the mountains of cold air that have piled up.  We can expect three nights of freezing overnight temperatures beginning tomorrow.

The lilies have loved all of the rain and the warm air growing daily.  Some will no longer fit under the buckets that have protected them from earlier frosts.  The orange spotted lilies shown above will fit under the new trash can but the leaves will contact the sides of the can.  Flower buds should be safe but the leaves in contact with the sides of the can may burn if the temperatures are low.

Our two surviving Farolito bulbs are confined to one pot.  This lily has buds now.  If common sense held any sway here we would get rid of this lily as it blooms way too early.  This pot will be lifted again and spend the next three cold nights in the basement.  That may not sound so bad but the three gallon pot is filled with water saturated soil.  This old man will have some trouble pulling this pot from the ground by its rim.  I wonder what combination of colorful words will fill the air with the attempt.

These Simplon lilies have exceeded their catalog description in height by a factor of two.  Last year they exceeded six feet tall.  The original three bulbs now number six mature bulbs with many daughter bulbs potted up in the sod house.  The new can will not cover  all six plants.  It would have if the plants had grown straight up from where I placed the bulbs last fall but that did not happen.  Some combination of two shorter buckets may provide the necessary frost protection.  If we can get safely past this next period of frost, these six plants will produce more than one hundred huge pure white sweetly scented flowers over a period of several days.

Thirty-three pots of lilies fill the sod house.  These plants are still short enough to cover in place with a tarp.  The browned leaf tips are scars from an earlier frost experience.  New leaves have grown out above the damaged leaves and by the time the flowers appear no one will notice the low brown leaf tips.  We always remove the plants from the pots when we set out the lilies in the garden trying to preserve the structure of the clump.  This year I expect that we will have more than one clump fall apart as it is shaken from an inverted pot.  More colorful phrasing is expected.

Twenty different varieties of lilies too tender to grow here cannot be justified by any logical explanation.  We really should grow fewer, but a new variety purchased this spring is just now breaking the surface in its pot.  What combination of color and scent will this new arrival tease us with this summer?  Therein lies the problem.  Lilies are simply much too beautiful and sweetly scented to not exist here.  We will have to face this year the overwhelming numbers of daughter bulbs that will appear.  How many lilies is too many?

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Thunder, Lightening and Lots Of Rain

For two days  starting in mid to late afternoon and into the night we have been treated to thunder lightening and rain, lots of rain.  Any plastic pails or buckets left outside had several inches of water in them.  Ed's driveway fared well, but still he got right out there to repair the spots that washed.  Once water has it's way with a gravel driveway it can cause a lot of trouble.  It's best to catch it as early as you can.

It's good he got this finished because we are getting more rain again tonight.  We needed rain of course and you have to take it like it comes!

It's really too wet to work in the garden, but the plants are responding quickly to the much needed moisture.  I swear these Robin's plaintain plants didn't have any flowers the last time I walked by them.  The weeds will be bigger too but that's just more compost and they will be easier to see.  I just can feel the plants out there in the rain growing as I write this.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

What's Going On?

Our internet connection was down for three days, but lots of stuff  went on in the garden.  Ed got some lettuce seed planted and also some beets.

He weeded and mulched the peas.  It all looks so neat.

We are beginning to see some  flowers. These beautiful, fragrant Narcissus poeticus came from
Kathy Purdy of Cold Climate Gardening. Our weather has turned sunny and hot.

Ed's lilies are looking good, but remain in the tunnel where we can cover them since this weekend' forecast is for more cold weather .

The curved stone wall is covered with plants in pots just waiting to be planted.  With June approaching fast we hope that this will be the last cold snap for 2013.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Mayflower Working In May

With the appearance of the trailing arbutus flowers this spring, daily visits were made to enjoy both the sight and the scent of these blossoms.  As the flowers began to fade and other garden tasks demanded attention several days passed between visits here.  The appearance of new stems this soon was totally unexpected.  It seems that arbutus plants waste no time to continue their growth cycle.  With the flowers past it is time to grow more stems and new leaves.

The first picture shows the current status of the plant that was eaten to its crown by a passing woodchuck early last spring.  In due time it grew a cluster of new leaves from the crown.  No flowers appeared on this plant but now it is sending out stems with a vengeance.  Eleven separate new stems are visible in the photo.  New leaves will soon follow as this plant works to regain its status as our best plant.

Our much celebrated new plant from seed shocked me with its two new stems.  How can a small new plant with only three not so big leaves make the energy to send out this growth spurt?  I am really looking forward to watching this plant grow in its first year.

This cluster of spent female flowers has a new stem passing above them.  Note the shape of what was the base of each flower.  If fertilization occurred, then seeds will begin to show here.  These plants are truly exciting to watch.

Here are the remains of male flowers.  The upper spent blossom has been pushed along the remains of the anther.  The base of these male flowers is markedly different from what is left of the female flowers.  Their work is finished but it appears that something will grow from the base of these flowers.  We expect to see many new leaves soon but will watch to see what develops where the flowers grew.

This picture was added three days after the original post.  New olive green leaves are now present.  Three years ago I was totally unsuccessful with stem cuttings.  Only new growth was taken for cuttings but it had all turned dark green by the time it was cut.  This year cuttings will again be tried.  New growth at this stage will be cut.  Time will be given to let this new growth get well under way before some of it is taken to try and make new plants.  For some reason I feel compelled to learn how to correctly interact with this plant.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Frost Questions

This time of year is tough on both the plants and the gardener here in zone 4.  Winter is mostly gone but the battle between warm weather systems from the south and cold northern air continues.  We recently enjoyed a day that saw afternoon temperatures close in on eighty degrees but the overnight low fell to twenty-seven and featured both freeze and frost.  Fortunately, our protections were in place and most of our plants survived.

The pictured circle of lilies illustrates a contradiction.  The plastic pail used to cover these plants leaves the left most plant exposed.  It faced the cold frost unprotected and alone.  It looks no different than the plants that spent the cold night under a bucket.  Last year we lost an entire circle of these lilies when we forgot to cover them on a night that had frost.

We have grown quite fond of this bush called summer sweet.  It freely reproduces by root runners and we have it planted in several locations.  We never cover these bushes as they usually leaf out late enough to avoid killing frosts.  That was not the case this year.  All of the other bushes are covered with tiny brown dead leaves.  Topography saved this plant as a small hill shelters it from the cold that pours down from the ridge.  We will wait to see if the burned plants produce a second set of leaves.

These apple blossoms were also unprotected from the cold.  We have neither smudge pots nor windmills to fight the frost.  Let totally alone these blossoms appear to have escaped injury.  Bees still visit here and the scent that fills the air is sweet beyond description.

We broke out the tarps and the buckets again last night.  The potted plants on the wall were all carried into the basement.  None of these precautions were necessary last night but like the prey we must escape every time.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

I Just Love A Happy Face!

I have always loved pansies.  There is something special about their happy little faces.  You can plant them out even when you are still getting freezes  and frosts like we are now.  They really are tough which makes me wonder why the word pansy is used the way it is sometimes.  Even though I love pansies, I have not planted them since the first year we had a garden here.  The simple reason is that they got eaten.  I don't mean the flowers got nipped off or the leaves got trimmed.  The entire plants were eaten, gone, missing, vanished!

This year when we visited our favorite local nursery and we walked into the greenhouse where the pansies were growing, the fragrance was amazing.  Ed asked me why we don't grow pansies since I love them so much.  I explained.  He  does not give up easily and decided we should try again.  So today we once again planted pansies.  Ed built cages to go over them.

He watered them well.  For the first time in years I have pansies in the garden.

Pretty purple and white pansies look great with those  happy little faces peering out of their protective cage.  They have been planted there to make me happy and tonight I am.  I'll be ecstatic if they are still there in the morning!

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Happy Mother's Day 2013

Fringed polygala, Polygala paucifolia, and Mother's Day have a shared history here.   We always search for these delicate wild orchids in the back woods around this special day.  Weather and a sliding holiday sometimes conspire to deny us these flowers on the second Sunday of  May.  Other years the blossoms and the holiday coincide.  This year no sign of the wild plants could be found.  Trees surrounding the wild patch are growing nicely but the extra fall leaves may have smothered these evergreen plants.  We will look again in several days.

Rumor has it that in the past, children of the farmers that toiled here brought handfuls of these flowers to their mothers.  If those tales are indeed true, many more of these plants grew here decades ago.  We have read numerous accounts of the decline of wild populations of Fringed polygala but none offer a reason for the cause of their disappearance.

The same two flowers appear in both pictures.  This is the plant that was moved from the woods to the shade garden.  A wire cage has covered this plant to protect it from the curious crows.  Given help, it has recovered from being picked at by the birds.  Several new shoots are evident and we will have two or three more clusters of flowers.  Moving wild plants always causes feelings of guilt for us but if the wild plants are gone while our captive one lives on, then we may have saved it here.

Jack-In-The-Pulpit, Arisaema triphyllum, has not been found in the wild here.  These plants were purchased so we have no direct connection with their harvest from the wild.  Frost sensitive, these plants have been burned to the ground more than once.  Tonight is the first of two consecutive frost warnings.  Plastic buckets are now covering our Jacks, but their beautiful display depends on just how cold it gets.  Despite the rigors of past frost burns, each of our plants sent up two stalks this year.  Flower survival and red berries would make a great picture later, but we have to get through these next two nights.

Pale lavender violets were the source of color today on the walk to the woods.  So far we have resisted the temptation to move these beautiful plants.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Second Snake of the Season

It is common here for the first snake sighting of the season to be announced with a piercing scream when Becky nearly steps on a wild wiggler.  That was not the case today.  An Eastern Milksnake was soaking up some warmth from the sun while stretched out across the driveway.  One of their defensive moves is to remain motionless but that is not effective when exposed.  After a good long look, I backed the tractor  away so that I could drive around the snake.  When I returned with the camera the snake was long gone.

Another favorite place to gain some heat from the sun is under my wheelbarrows.  Sure enough when the wheelbarrow was raised a snake was exposed.  The bale of old hay under the stored wheelbarrow is there for the snakes.  Mice and voles are high on the list of food for these snakes so we encourage their presence.  Later in the day I needed my wheelbarrow and found two milksnakes under it.  This time one showed me its vibrating tail.  Impressive but not scary, I found the display some what comical since these snakes pose no threat to people.

Trout lily, Erthronium americanum, commonly occurs here as single leafed nonflowering plants.  This double leafed plant flowered but no flower or seed capsule is present.  I have always suspected that the wild turkeys were eating the flowers.  The flower that opened here was clearly eaten.

When I dug this pinxter azalea, Rhododendron nudiflorum, from the wild, it was replanted in the woods rather than at the edge of the woods.  Located with insufficient light it never flowered.  It would have been easier on the plant if I had relocated it before leaf out but I always seem to be a little late.  The tool of choice for tasks like this is a five foot steel pry bar.  If the plant is levered out with a sizable dirt ball, the move will likely be successful.

A good sized clump of forest soil is coming with the plant.  A pail of forest soil was also taken to line the planting hole.  Overnight rain added to what we hope will be a successful move.

A Fond Flower Farewell

We have enjoyed the beautiful magnolia flowers on our tiny bush.   After so much anticipation  we were not disappointed. However, such beauty does not last forever!

Starting with the first flowers to open, the petals are falling to the ground.  This flower still clings to its last remaining petal.  The fascinating flower center is completely revealed.

We still have a few more flowers to enjoy.  In this case a long goodbye is a very pleasant thing.  Already  leaves are beginning to open.  For us and the tiny magnolia this has been a special year!

Monday, May 6, 2013

Garden Friends

We had  a frost this morning, but after the sun warmed thing up, Ed and I decided to go  to work on the bed down by the road.  We loaded up the tractor cart with all the tools we thought we might need.  It is a somewhat long walk back up the lane to the house from here.  Up by the house the garden is dust dry.  Here with the different soil there is still some moisture.  We worked at weeding and cleaning up the Siberian iris.  Ed transplanted some King Alfred daffodils.  There were lots of dandelions to dig out.  While I love to see a field of dandelions instead of a pristine grass lawn, I hate to have them growing in my flower beds.  It's a good thing successfully digging them out taproot intact brings such a joyful feeling of conquest.  Ed and I  had a great morning working together!

You can see that we have bluebird boxes located here.  Just the other day I took a peek to check on the residents of the bird house.  Sometimes I feel a little guilty about disturbing our house guests, but this time I was so glad  I did.  The box contained a dead tree swallow.  Ed removed it for me and as you can see the tree swallows are back.  They let me get very close to take a picture.  I was pleased since I have often watched these birds attack the neighbor's cat.  They are not afraid to buzz people either, but they paid little attention to us today. The second box is empty. The bluebirds seem to have moved on.  It is their usual pattern.  The insects that they need to feed their babies are scarce when we don't get much rain.  Last year when the drought period ended they came back.  Perhaps this year will be the same!